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Since graduating from AFTRS Louise Alston has produced television, worked in theatre and directed two feature films – All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane and Jucy, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010. Despite this success, Alston still had to prove her value to Back of the Net producer Steve Jaggi. We caught up with Alston to discuss how she got the job, working with a diverse young cast, and where she’s up to on Slut – her new comedy series shot in shot in LA.
Interview by Matthew Eeles
You’ve had a terrific career so far as a director, but you’re not exactly known for sports films. How did you come to be involved with Back of the Net?
Turns out that the film’s producer, Steve Jaggi, saw my first feature All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane when he was a student in Brisbane. I sent him a postcard because I wanted to be on his radar because I really loved Rip Tide. He got back to me and told me he wanted to meet me so I jumped in my car and drove to Sydney to say hello. About twelve months later he called saying he had this project and asked me if I’d consider returning from LA to Australia to direct. He sent me the script for Back of the Net and it was very exciting.
Steve’s an impressive producer. What was it about Rip Tide that you enjoyed so much?
I loved that it was a really great, positive story with really great female roles. It was beautifully shot and beautifully put together. It was a very positive movie and that’s why I enjoyed it. It was very easy going. I referenced a lot of movies for Back of the Net and Rip Tide was one of them. A lot of rom-coms and family movies, but mostly sports movies in particular.
I read an article recently where the journalist wrote that Football films were guaranteed box office poison until Bend it Like Beckham came along. Did you reference that film while developing Back of the Net?
Of course. Bend It Like Beckham is such a great film and it’s also for the same kind of audience we were making this film for. It’s really interesting because when I rewatched it recently I noticed there’s not as much soccer in it as you would imagine. It really is a relationship film. I guess when you think about every sports film they always end up being relationship films. Friendships, team mates, family relationships and in our case there’s also a romance.
On a scale of one to ten, how big of a soccer fan are you?
It depends or not if we’re in a World Cup year. [Laughs]. I have to say, like every other person in Australia, I think that Sam Kerr should win a gold medal every day. I just love watching her and I love watching the Matildas. I’ve very excited for their campaign for the World Cup this year. I think I’m even more of a soccer fan now that I’ve made this film. My niece is a massive Matildas fan so she was pretty impressed when I told her that I had Caitlin Foord in the film.
Back of the Net explores many themes from acceptance and friendship and, most importantly, the growth and empowerment of women in sports. Does making a film like this change the way you view female sports, especially in Australia?
When I was young I played a lot of hockey. When Steve sent me the script he didn’t officially offer the film to me and told me I was on the list and was wondering if I was interested. I loved it so much and replied to Steve with photos of me playing sports as a kid. I understand sports. I get sports. I’m from Wagga Wagga and Wagga is a sporting capital and I know first hand just how hard it is for female athletes to crack into the industry. Making this film made me even more aware of female sports and how underexposed it is in the media.
Quite a few filmmakers have come out of Wagga Wagga. How did you get involved in film?
Well my first proper job was selling shoes, but my first film job was editing TV news at WIN News. From there I went to AFTRS in Sydney. It was great. The best thing about going to AFTRS is the people you meet there including my husband, Stephen Vagg. We collaborated together to write my first two feature films All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane and Jucy.
Speaking of scripts, Back of the Net was written by two Americans, Alison Spuck McNeeley and Casie Tabanou. Was there much work to do on the script in terms of changing Australian dialect?
Actually, I was amazed that it was written by Americans. Reading the script, I was convinced it was written by Australians who understand that world market. When I first met the ladies I asked them if they were married to Australians and they told me they learnt everything about Australia on the internet. [Laughs]. There’s a line in the script where a guy says to a girl, “Do you wanna grab a fizzy drink. Just as mates?” [Laughs]. I thought that was such a deft use of the word mate, because you have to understand how to use that word in certain context. That was a very proper use of that word.
Did Alison and Casie come out to Australia for the shoot?
They didn’t unfortunately. Bit when I went back to America I had dinner with them and told them about the shoot and what it was like being on set.
What was the experience of being on this set like for you?
It was great. We shot in Wollongong and then a week at the soccer club in Castle Hill. It was such a lovely experience. We all stayed in a caravan park together and focused hard on work. It was a great atmosphere on set, especially working with such a great cast of lovable young people.
Everyone is great in this film. What was it like working with such a terrific, diverse young cast.
I wanted to work with people who would be physically able to act like soccer players so I cast with an eye for people who were dancers or sports players. Trae Robin, who plays Oliver, is really into Crossfit and a lot fo the girls, like Sofia, are dancers. Even though Sofia acts like she can’t dance in the movie, she’s actually the most amazing dancer. Right now she’s filming the TV version of High School Musical. When you’re working with teenagers who can act, dance and sing, you know they can do anything. They’re a triple threat. [Laughs]. The whole cast are really smart and they looked like they could play soccer. Some of the dancers would kick with a pointed toe, so we had to edit that so they looked more like athletes and less like showgirls. [Laughs].
The last time I saw Tiarnie Coupland in a film she was being murdered by Aaron Glenane and Aaron Pederson in Killing Ground. It’s nice to see her in a family film.
Oh my God, yes! [Laughs]. She looks so pure in this film that it’s hard to imagine her in Killing Ground. She’s a really great actor and she has such great range. She said that she bought soccer boots as soon as she heard we were considering her for this role. She went out with her boyfriend to learn how to play soccer straight away. She was really into it.
I’m dying to learn more about your new series Slut. What can you tell us about that?
Thanks for asking. We’re in post-production right now. We’ve got half of it done. It’s looking really good and it’s really coming together. It has a great vision and it’s totally off the wall. It’s really singing. I don’t really want to give too much away about the series, but it’s the story of a girl called Lilly and how she lives her life as a sexually liberated young woman. I can’t wait for everyone to see it.
Back of the Net is in cinemas from April 18.